The Vortex SmartWinch
A Vortex is Coming!!! The Ultimate in Stationary/Static Winches - and all electric!
Designed and made in-house here at Instinct Windsports. The technology, motor power, battery power and cost have finally come together to allow us integrate these technologies together to bring you a VERY powerful, VERY small and VERY cost effective single winch that can meet all your hang gliding (...and paragliding...and skydiving) needs.
What is a vortex? "Sedona vortices are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex. "
Vortex - once you read the above, I am sure you will agree it is a fitting name for this product!!
As of April 2022, we are just putting the finishing touches on our Phase 1 of the project and are beginning small batch, serial production. We spent over a year (starting Dec2020) researching components and it took us six months to get in the special ordered custom motors, controllers and a battery to get the sustained power we need for towing hang gliders.
Prices are estimated (and rounded up hopefully). Final configurations are not set. Prices will only go UP as we look at adding features. We are only offering one version at this time until we can do further testing to see if we can offer a smaller system (scaled back features) in the future. The version we have now (Fall 2021) is the Full version with the idea of maxing out all components we could integrate to get the max power possible - it should be able to tow a tandem and rigid hang gliders. It is getting quite heavy as we are beefing it up...
So we may try to make a light-weight one capable of only towing solo gliders (HG & PG) in a smaller form-factor unit. Easier to get in and out of a trunk, the battery will be smaller and less expensive. Much lighter - aluminium housing and possible fibre drum.
What IS included in the price listed here:
- motor (tandem/full)
- aluminium , powder-coated flanges
- appropriate motor controller in metal box
- "manual" (analog) controller box
- drum line guards with basket (helps prevent the line from jumping over flange)
- quad-roller rope fairlead
- powder-coated aluminum motor frame with bolt to mount to your vehicle's hitch receiver (see note below)
- simple wooden motor frame for transporting and storage
What IS NOT included in the price listed here:
- battery - you choose your desired capacity
- rope - you choose your line strength and amount
- automated digital winch-op controller - future offering (fall 2022?)
- rope guillotine - future offering (winter 2022?)
- remote control kit - future offering (spring 2023?)
- shipping fees and shipping crate
- step-towing heavy rope leader - "the Snake"
- drogue chute for line retrieval
- hitch mount for your vehicle - we recommend something like this with a "rise" that is installed upside down to lift up the winch. It needs to match the receiver size on your vehicle - most are 2"
Please read through the FAQs below as they will answer most of your questions. Ask a question below if you have one as others likely have the same question!
Current Inventory Levels
**if stock of zero is shown and you can still add the item to you cart, you can place the order and we will advise on a delivery time
QUESTIONS & ANSWERSAsk a Question
Do I have to pay the entire amount NOW (pre-order)?
No. We understand it is a big purchase and it will take some time for us to finish it up. So we have a Vortex deposit you can pay for pre-orders and the remaining will be due prior to your Vortex order shipping out. It will also give us some time to figure out freight costs to your address.
Can you supply me more images of the Tandem Vortex winch with it's control etcetera? And is it possible to get a two line winch? What are the sizes/weight?
More images and videos will be coming. Please subscribe to our social media feeds to stay in the loop:
I will think about the two-line winch....I assume you want it for a fast turn-around in a club environment? It would still be two drums with two seperate motors so there won't be any cost savings. It would be possible to design a system where the desired drum could be locked on to the drive shaft but that would probably take more work/time/cost than to just buy two winches as they are now.
Plus a dual-drum one would be way to heavy to lift on and off your tow receiver and you would then need to have a dedicated trailer for it....something you could do anyways if you bought multiple winches.
The weight of the winch (the motor, drum and frame) is currently about 130lbs. We are working on reducing that to save our backs! :)
Please email me back so I have your email address.
What tow rope should I put on it?
We import great line and it can be purchased here. 2mm is what we use for solo towing and can fit just over 2km of rope on the winch. We use the 2.8mm for tandem towing.
Do I have to buy your battery to go with it?
No, but we recommend the one we offer since we have tested it. We custom ordered our batteries straight from the factory. It is important to get sufficient "continuous output" to ensure you can feed the motor with enough power to get the torque (tow tension) you need. For tandem towing and towing in stronger winds, this requirement can be quite demanding.
To get our max output our motor controller can handle, we had to get the 75Ah battery - a very expensive batter but are getting an estimate of about 80 tows per charge!
If you want to shop around for batteries, we can let you know what specs you need for the model you purchase. Keep in mind that it took us 5 months to get our first battery due to the custom order and the fact that they CANNOT ship it by air since it is a Lithium Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery.
What tow releases can you use with it?
A tough question. We don't recommend using anything execpt for a Koch-style release. The release is pinned to your chest in a single, reliable position at all times....so WHEN an emergency release needs to be done, the pilot knows EXACTLY where it is and quick reliable slap of the release gets you off the line.
If you are doing step-towing, you are a fool if you try it without a Koch-style release. They are hard to find as no one currently makes them - we will hopefully be making some in the near future.
For straight-pulls, I'd still recommend using a Koch-style release for the above mentioned reasons but I have seen people use releases commonly used for payout winch towing and even aero-tow releases. I can't recommend them for stationary winch towing as we don't allow them to be used at our stationary winch towing facility (we use them all the time at our aerotowing park)
Can you foot launch with it? cart launch?
You can do either.
We only do and allow foot launching. It takes up less runway space and allows the pilot to manage any crosswind prior to launching and can manage their angle-of-attack easier before launching.
For those pilots that have never done foot-launch winch-towing....start slow on a single-surface glider as you will appreciate how foregiving they can be on adjusting for any mis-management of your AoA upon launch. We would recommend doing 20+ tows on a single surface glider before trying it on any double-surface and especially topless gliders. It's a whole new experience! ...and it is critical that you get it right since you are close to the ground and are dealing with more tow tensions than any other form of towing.
Why is it better than hydraulic winches? scooter winches? payout winches?
THIS is key. The Vortex is a TENSION-CONTROLLED winch. This is opposed to a SPEED-CONTROLLED (or throttle-controlled) winch.
A speed controlled winch puts a great amount of responsability on the winch-operator. If they only have speed control, they have some work to do to manage the tension on the tow line throughout the tow.
Some hydraulic winch are smoother but hydro-static winches still require the winch operator to visibly monitor a pressure gage and adjust their hydraulic flow to attain and maintain a desired tow tension. And the tension can and will change throughout the tow due to glider speed changes, lift/sink, wind gusts and thermals. With a TENSION-CONTROLLED winch, the intelligence of the winch takes care of all that....resulting in a much smoother tow and WAY more efficient with increased safety.
Scooter winches are notorious for rough tows. All you have is a gas throttle to adjust and most scooter-winches don't have a pressure gage to monitor. This requires and even more skilled winch operator and often a very rough ride. For this reason, scooter winches are usually only used in low, smooth winds for rather low-tension training tows.
There are also winches based on the LSD (Limited Slip Differential) transmission of a car. These are stricktly gas throttle controlled as well and have the same problems as a scooter. They do have the added feature of setting a max tension that the transmission will slip if that max tension is attained to limit the tow from going over the max tension. This adjustment is very hard to set and calibrate as you have to test manually with a gage and is often set way too high.
What does Phase 1 include/entail? What are future Phases?
"Phase One" for us is to release our higher-powered offering with a custom winch controller to help automate some of the winch operating process.
Currently (fall 2021) we have a simple controller that can do everything we need but it takes a fair amount of knowledge and experience for the winch operator to successfully perform a tow (and especially a step-tow). We may allow this simple controller to ship out to early buyers but they will need to be able to demonstrate a great deal of stationary winch towing experience and it would help if they are USHPA Tow Tech certified. Without EITHER of those, we won't sell you a winch. Even with only one, we may be asking for more references.
Our first, high-power offering will be capable of towing a tandem hang glider....this is A LOT of power. Too much than what is necessary for solo hang gliders (especially in a training envirnomment) and WAAAY too much for a solo paraglider. There is some firmware settings that we can set to reduce the upper power but they aren't too hard to change and if you do this unknowingly, you can put your pilots in great danger if you don't manually moderate your tension.
So for "Phase Two" we hope to have our custom controller that will make it easier to see and adjust the max tension the winch is currently set at and have a number of dials and sliders to get you throught our recommended phases of the tow. This will take considerable work for us over the 2021/22 winter but we hope to have it done.
"Phase Three" for us is to implement a remote-control self-tow controller where the pilot has the controls at their disposal and control all phases of their own flight. This will take considerable testing on our end and that will be our focus for our 2022 season. We hope to have this controller finished (testing and production) for the fall of 2022 and will be able to be retrofited in the field to all of our winches
"Solo Model" - in parallel, we may work on a Solo Version of the winch. We wanted to keep it small and light and portable but our first goal was to max out all current technologies to see what max power we could get with the goal of being able to perform self-tandem-tows...as that is the only way to financially justify a project like this. However, the components are getting quite heavy and almost too heavy for a single person to lug in and out of a trunk. Once we get time this winter, we will see if our manufacturer has a smaller motor that is still sufficent for solo-glider tows that is also lighter and maybe a little less expensive. We will then see about making our drum and frame a lot lighter as well...it would be nice to take your winch on a plane trip with you....we think it is possible.
Also for the solo-version, we are hoping a smaller and less expensive battery will be viable. The power requirements of the solo winch will be less so a much smaller battery should suffice. This smaller lithium-based battery still might not be able to be taken on a plane for a trip, but a smaller one may be able to be ground-shipped ahead of time to where you are going!!!
Can schools use it as a scooter-winch with brand new pilots?
Absolutely! This was a high-priority plan for us since we are an active school. I find scooter-towing first-day students the most stressful due to the Honda Elite 250 scooter we use really has too much power for first-day students and the fact that it is throttle-controlled-tension makes it an art to operate.
With the Vortex, the tension control is done automatically by the winch brains. We normally only tow early-students in very calm winds anyways but the torque-regulation of the Vortex will help keep constant tension in these very sensitive, low-to-the-ground tows. It even does a bit of compensating for when the students adjust their flying speeds (which we ask them not to do) as if they speed up, line tension would drop and if they push out, line tension would go up....if the winch (or operator) doesn't adjust for it.
In our custom controller we are working on (winter 2021/22) we will have some presets - one will be for a low-and-slow tow, what the scooter towing was invented for.
Some schools have multiple winches (50cc, 80cc, 150cc and 250cc) to have different to have different max-power options so they can't over tension a student. With the tension/torque-regulated Vortex, the one winch will do it all!
Can it tow Rigid Wings?
As of Oct 2021, it hasn't been tested on rigid wings. As per our research, the speed of our motor should be ample to tow rigid wings....the line tension may be a little light but still enough to get a reasonable tow, just not "optimal".
Can it tow tandem hang gliders?
By our calculations, it certainly should!
As of Oct 2021, we have yet to test it on our tandem but we ordered the custom motor to handle the line speeds and tensions needed to do tandems. If it does work as expected, owning a Vortex for all tandem pilots should be a no-brainer as it will pay for itself in no time....especially when we get the remote-control configured. Imagine self-towing tandems...no crew NEEDED (we still plan on using a crew member to help with line retreivals, paperwork and safety checks).
Can it tow Paragliders?
Absolutely. No problem. The winch has more than enough power.
A key feature of our Vortex electric winch is that it is "tension controlled" - the tension set is automatically moderated in-flight by our controller. If thermals or wind gusts are experienced during tow, the winch quickly adjusts its speed to maintain the desired line tension.
This is a HUGE detterant to most stationary-winch-towing of paragliders as most winches are "throttle-controlled" and if the winch operator over-tensions a paraglider, it could stall on tow and fall backwards to recover. ALL stationary-winch towing carries the risk of the glider (HG or PG) being towed at a very high angle-of-attack and if the tow tension is lost at a low altitude, it can put the pilot at risk while it recovers. This "tension-control" of the Vortex helps minimize this risk (but can never eliminate it).
The only issue with the Vortex towing paragliders now is that it has WAYY TOO MUCH power for paragliders. Our control system right now allows you to set the max tension available to tow PRIOR to launching....and then you can control up to 100% of that setting during the tow on our current manual controller. So it really is no problem if you set it properly for towing just paragliders - set it and forget it. We can pre-configre the winch for you prior to shipping. But if you are switching back and forth between HGs and PGs, you need to be careful as to what the max-tension is set to.
Our Phase 2 controller will allow you to change this max-tension setting a lot easier and be visually available on the manual controller, but we aren't there quite yet.
Other electric winches boast that their max-tension is limited by which model you purchase from them - the motor is just not powerful enough to over-tension the pilot. This is OK for the pure solo, self-towing solo PG pilot but for any group or club or business that wants to also tow tandem PGs or even HGs and PGs, this one low-powered winch is not suitable. We are more of the mindset to have ONE winch that can do it all for all pilots and work together with PGs and HGs, schools and certified pilots and solo or tandem pilots. It is much more of an easier investment for a group/club like this.
How high can you tow with it?
We find that if you use the proper tensions (not to high, not to low), you should be able to get between one-third to one half of the launch distance up...so if you have 1000m of line out at launch, you can get at least 1000' high.
There are a lot of factors such as pilot weight, skill level, stationary winch tow experience and of course the flying factors like wind speed, lift or sink (none of either is more reliable) and even humidity plays a factor.
The real art for us is finding the ideal tow pressure - we have seen many operators tow too hard....they think the harder you pull, the higher you get. The big problem is pulling too hard puts the pilot in danger if they lose the tow line (breakage, premature release or weaklink break), especially close to the ground. Years ago, since we use a tension-controlled hydraulic winch, we were able to monitor the pressures and we ended up reducing our tow pressures by about 40% and ended up getting higher altitude tows as we spent MORE TIME climbing compared to pulling in the rope faster with the higher pressures. Sure the climb rates were higher, but the pull was over MUCH faster.
If I order one, when will it ship?
As of October 2021, we are still finalizing our base configuration and have to do some final flight testing. We then have to finalize our pricing.
You can place an order now to expedite the process. A $5,000cdn deposit will be required and this will allow us to pre-order the components that take time to get here (from the manufacturer in China) , mainly the motor and the battery. The battery is a custom build for our specific needs and can take many months to get here - mainly because it needs to be shipped by boat after it is manufacturered. What we will likely do for the battery is ship direct from the factory to the buyer to reduce traval time and shipping costs....however, it will require the buyer to deal directly with customs, final domestic delivery costs and domestic handling charges. We may stock some batteries (but they are a HUGE cost) so they will be more expensive than getting it shipped direct to you.
Our target is to have units delivered by Spring 2022.
Can it Step Tow?
Yes, it CAN.
We have already tested it for step-towing and it was a perfect success. I personally two-step towed to 500m in light winds with launching with only 500m of line out.
However, step-towing has A LOT of risks and shouldn't be attepted without proper training and starting very conservatively. Our students often step-tow before even earning their H2 rating so pilots of all levels CAN step-tow successfully but if you have never towed behind a stationary winch, you owe it to yourself to learn to do that first on a single-surface glider before attempting step-towing. We would recommend doing 20 full-tension "straight tows" (non-step-towing) before considering step-towing.
Also, our current controller is quite manual for the winch operator to control. We are VERY experienced winch operators so operating the Vortex for step-towing wasn't a problem but it is not for the inexperienced. Our Phase 2 controller will automate this and make it a lot easier to step-tow. We will likely NEVER approve the Vortex to step-tow as it widely unaccepted as a suitable form of towing world/industry-wide. We have step-towed THOUSANDS of times here at Instinct. It is a very common practice around here in Ontario, Canada and the other schools have done it WAY more than we have. It is also VERY popular in the Nordic countries as well.
I consider it the best kept secret in hang gliding....but also the most risky form of towing. Be cautious and NEVER attempt it without a Koch-style release.
What makes it Smart?
Our motor controller can "automatically" adjust the motor's rpm/speed to attain a constant line tension. I put "automatically" in quotes as there is a slight delay....but only a second or two (more with the more rope you have out) but WAY faster than any manual winch operator could react to.
MOST other stationary winches out there are all SPPED (aka throttle) controlled...the winch operator has to visually monitor a tension guage and adjust their controlls to attempt to keep a constant line tension to give the pilot a smooth tow. This is the case for all scooter-winches, Limited-Slip-Differential winches, many other electric winches and even most hydra-static (hydraulic winches).
We invested in a hydraulic winch that has a pressure-relief valve the dumps the hydraulic fluid should the set desired tension gets exceeded during the tow (thermal or gust). It has rewarded us with incredibly smooth tows in VERY thermic inland conditions. Something our local competitors don't have.
It is great to see this technology finally exists now - we have found the proper combination of our custom electric motors that are powerful enough for tandems and coupled with custom programmed motor controller to offer tension control. You won't believe how smooth the tows are on this Vortex.
AND THEN - since the entire system is electronic, it opens up the reality of being able to automate the winch operating process to make it easier to get more winch operators on-board....and the next step (by fall 2022) is to add remote-control to the system allowing the pilot to tow themself!